Wednesday, February 29, 2012

For a Culture Without Custodians / Miguel Iturria Savón

For a Culture Without Custodians / Miguel Iturria Savón
Miguel Iturria Savón, Translator: Unstated

In Cuba we barely acknowledge the discovery of America by Christopher
Columbus, on October 12, 1492, and his arrival on our shores on the
24th, as if the conquest and colonization by Spain were an outstanding
bill and not an event from the past of historical and cultural
significance. Officially, National Culture Day celebrates the start of
the war of Independence — October 10, 1868 — and the entrance of the
patriots into Bayamo on the 20th in that same month and year.

Such a bellicose perception distorts the country's cultural heritage,
burdened by the bureaucracy of the State, political ideology and the
creation of a system of stars, subject to the network of monopolies that
control artistic and literary production.

In the culture that preceded the Revolutionary destructuring process of
1959, influenced by the redesign of relations with the United States
starting in 1902, and the migratory waves of Spanish and Caribbean who
came in search of jobs and boosted the production and trade of the
island , turned into one of the most prosperous nations of the continent.

In the mid-twentieth century Cuba faced socioeconomic changes that
bankrupted traditional values: the advance of the so-called mass
culture, based on the expansion of radio, TV, film, in education and the
media. Urban architecture was driven by public and private, mainly in
Havana and Varadero, investing in tourism sites, where the hotel
industry and real estate took the lead, which generated jobs and
alternative collateral.

With the socio-political changes spontaneous manifestations of culture
were interrupted. The affiliation with the socialist model in Eastern
Europe led to the system of government agencies that monopolized the
areas of artistic creation. The Cuban Book Institute, the National Music
Center, the Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), the
Council for the Performing Arts, the Institute of Radio and Television,
the Center for Art and Design and groups like the National Ballet ,
Contemporary Dance or the Folk Assembly directed artistic production
based on political and governmental interests.

The ICAIC, founded in March 1959, exemplifies the ideological control
over the culture. Its founder, Alfredo Guevara, castrated the creative
intellect of Cuban filmmakers. This character was essential in the long
film industry of the tyranny, in whose controversial way statism was
imposed and the critics of the New Cinema excluded, within which
Gutierrez Alea, Humberto Solás and others survived.

The bureaucratization required creators to conform to the network of
state centers. The officials issued rules, instituted censorship and
stressed submission through the award system, including editions of
books, recordings and foreign travel, which favored the opportunism and
unleashed persecution upon and the exodus of those who challenged the
canons of power. In this context, the affiliation to the Union of
Journalists of Cuba (UPEC) or UNEAC (Union of Writers and Artists of
Cuba), became collateral, as artists and writers are legally deprived of
personality and tied to the schema.

From the colloquialism of the poetic we turned to poetry of the slogan,
the narrative of violence, socialist realism and scriptural grayness
that mythologized the Leader and his legion of "heroes." Purges,
epiphanies, trading in praise and even a National Movement for the Nueva
Trova to reject the troubadour tradition begun by Pepe Sanchez in the
nineteenth century and continued by Sindo Garay and Miguel Matamoros.

You had to march or dance in tune to the rules and precepts of the
Leader and his party, at least until 1990, when the lack of economic
resources caused by the fall of the Soviet bloc accelerated the crisis
of the monopolistic institutions and the exodus of artists to other nations.

Alfredo Guevara, founder and former head of the ICAIC, receiving an
award from Raul Castro

Perhaps the best of the official culture is the art education system, as
it favored the education of trainers and arts schools tripled. The
promotion of community culture and festivals of fans encouraged the
emergence of cultural centers, museums, galleries and public libraries,
installed in old cinemas, closed schools and new locations.

The imposition of rules and the bowing to the power affected musicians
and actors, dancers and visual artists, writers and journalists. The
dependence is emphasized in the media and provincial and community
institutions also subject to local government bodies.

By submitting intellectuality to the rules of power through punishments
and rewards that encourage opportunism and degrade the privileged, a
market in perks was created based on dogmas and affiliations. The
interplay extends to the new technologies and the shares of power
allocated to the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, whose
subsidiaries determine the feasibility of projects, editions and travel
abroad with very little subtlety.

Despite the passage of time, the exodus of artists and involution of the
country, the regime insists on imposing limits on the culture,
converting its elites in appendages to the state bureaucracy. Silence
and complicity favor the supposed unanimity to the detriment of the
differences and freedom that characterize the expressions of art.

October 31 2011

Fruit and Vegetable Carts: Progress or Regression? / Rebeca Monzo

Fruit and Vegetable Carts: Progress or Regression? / Rebeca Monzo
Rebeca Monzo, Translator: Unstated

For the last few months, since the new apertures from the government,
the city has been filled with carts selling various agricultural
products. They differ from the existing agricultural markets, precisely
because of the variety and presentation offered. Many people have called
this progress but it is, in my humble opinion, quite the opposite.

It is true that they are solving a problem of the people, and they are
themselves opting for a job that until now was practically underground,
and which was almost lost — street vendor – which allows them to be
self-employed and to make a living for them and their families. What's
more, in most cases these are young men and even women who did not
continue their studies, perhaps due to lack of support.

This profession of peddling with carts flourished in the forties, but
already by the early fifties, due to social progress, it was
disappearing, giving way to establishments where what was offered was
more stable and pleasant, with all these agricultural products both
local fruits and imported. What we have now is that the former stores of
this type are closed and vacant, and in their doorways, without any kind
of hygiene, piled up in old dirty drawers, are the products, leaving the
sidewalks and streets full of their red dirt, once they've finished
selling, making the city even dirtier than it already is.

With the emergence and proliferation of supermarkets, these carts
disappeared permanently from the big city, and were found only in some
neighborhoods on the outskirts, but in smaller numbers.

Now, in the 21st century, in 2012, they are resurfacing as on Fenix
Street. Most people consider it an achievement, as they see agricultural
products and some fruits reappearing, clean and well presented, with
better quality and prices than in state shops, where they sell them with
soil, roots and leaves included, and where you have to be alert not to
be fooled by the prices, because the weight includes all of the above
waste.On the one hand, it is nice to see this new activity reappear, but
on the other hand it is a sad fact that all the young labor force that
could be working in a large and pleasant supermarket, with good working
conditions, as required by progress, rather than having to push these
carts from sunrise to sunset in different neighborhoods, and to endure
nasty comments from some retrograde or official-like people, who tend to
criticize, not realizing that they too are part of the same suffering
people, and they are trying to defend a system that has only made us all

It is said that soon the authorities will prohibit all this once again.
Is there any foundation in that? Because they enrich and offer products
that do not exist in the state agricultural markets. If it were not so
tragic, it would be laughable. The real reason for their possible
elimination is that every day, they are a public demonstration of the
government's inability to solve the most pressing problems.

February 26 2012

A Cuban School of Mediocrity and Sex

A Cuban School of Mediocrity and Sex
February 29, 2012
Osmel Almaguer

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 29 — "Students here have no interest in learning,"
said the principal of the polytechnic institute where I recently started
working as a teacher.

"Just take it easy; treat it like a way to survive, because if you try
to force yourself it's useless when you consider the immaturity and
apathy of our students," he concluded.

I suppose her words weren't a call for under fulfilling my
responsibilities. Her comments were only the result of the logical
illusions that teachers bring with them when they're new to this kind of

A polytechnic is a type of school which I assume exists in very few
countries. They're equivalent to senior high schools, only that when the
student graduates, supposedly they're ready to begin performing at a
technical level in the specialty they studied.

Polytechnics these days are infamous for their high level of corruption.
That's why when a friend recommended me for the contract that I'm now
working under, I thought I'd be able to earn a few pesos as well as have
the opportunity to help people improve themselves.

The corruption in these schools — as everyone knows — includes teachers
selling tests to students. For a minimum of 5 CUCs (about $5.50 USD) a
student will pass, and for 10 CUCs they'll get the highest grade in the
class. It's also common for there to be sex between male teachers and
female students, whether or not it's grade related.

In my short experience in teaching the subject of Spanish literature,
what has caught my attention is the marked contrast between the sexual
lust of these students and their immaturity as people.

It's like watching children whose adult bodies sexual responses respond
to the externality of their anatomy and not a maturity of their minds.

Their dealings with teachers generally go beyond the limits that should
exist between a student and an educator.

Perhaps this influences the fact that most of the faculty is made up of
former alumni of that same institution, without their having had time to
gain experience, or educational or academic training.

What's saddest is that the government requires the students to be
promoted, without taking into account that the responsibility for these
learners passing depends on their own work as much as on the teachers.

If almost everyone fails a test, the blame isn't placed on the lack of
generalized interest, but on the inability of the teacher, who will see
their pay docked and will probably close their contract.

Collective experience has taught this to the students, who have also
learned to keep their teachers vulnerable to blackmail in this respect.

In other words, the individual student doesn't make an effort because
the responsibility lies entirely with the teacher, regardless of the
fact that none of them study anything at home, at least nothing other
than reggaeton, dancing, fashion and cellphones.

A teacher has almost no tools to discipline or educate their students,
not to mention their problems with parents, who only care about
complaining to the school's administration when their child is suspended
or punished.

Of course the parent´s complaints are always damaging to the teachers.

Despite Improved U.S. Relations With Cuba, Barriers to Progress Remain

Despite Improved U.S. Relations With Cuba, Barriers to Progress Remain
By Catherine Cheney | 29 Feb 2012

In the first high-level meeting between the United States and Cuba since
former U.S. President Jimmy Carter met with Cuban President Raul Castro
in 2010, Sens. Patrick Leahy and Richard Shelby traveled to the island
last week to discuss the case of imprisoned American Alan Gross.

Though the case has strained relations between the two countries, and
though the U.S. remains the only country in the Western Hemisphere
without normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, there have been
improvements in the relationship, particularly over the past three years.

Geoff Thale, who oversees research and advocacy for the Washington
Office on Latin America, identified three significant changes in
particular since Barack Obama became president.

"The most general one is the lowering of tensions relative to those that
existed under the Bush administration," Thale said. "The second one is
the end to any restrictions on Cuban-American family travel and
remittances, which is a tremendous help for families, is good for the
Cuban economy and changes the dynamic. And the third is that the Obama
administration has relaxed the rules on academic, religious and other
organized travel between the two countries."

Though that represents progress, especially compared to the Cold War
nadir in U.S.-Cuba relations, Cuba's poor record on human rights and
political prisoners continues to make further gains difficult.

That said, Cuba released 100 political prisoners through the fall of
2011, Thale explained, and in December, the country announced that it
would release 2,900 prisoners in advance of an upcoming visit by Pope
Benedict XVI. The Catholic Church leadership has had direct dialogue
with the Cuban government, Thale said, and these discussions have led to
the release of political prisoners as well as the gradual opening of the

Cuba has also taken a number of steps to revive its economy, Thale
added, pointing to both the announcement that the Cuban government will
begin to reduce the size of the state sector and the expanded
opportunities for private sector employment.

"The rules have changed. Permits are easier to get. The number of
self-employed has tripled over the past year and a half. You can see it
on the streets," he said. "They have legalized the sale of homes and
cars in the private market and permitted the private sales of
construction materials. Now anyone who wants to go and buy cement and
paint and nails can do so, whereas it used to be controlled by the state."

Cuba has also improved its relations with Central and South America,
Thale said, describing its participation in regional bodies and pointing
specifically to Brazilian investment in the port city of Mariel, outside
of Havana, the capital.

As for Cuba's ties with the European Union, Thale described it as a
"funny" relationship. "Though the EU has normal diplomatic relations
with Cuba," he explained, "Cuba and the EU don't have full trade and
investment and economic development agreements."

Spain has been working to change this, Thale said, explaining that there
is extensive Spanish investment in the Cuban tourism sector. Earlier
this month, he added, a Spanish oil company began drilling the first
well in exploration of offshore oil fields northwest of Havana.

By contrast, progress in relations between the U.S. and Cuba is
ultimately limited, Thale said, by the fact that Cuba is no longer
considered to be of strategic importance to the U.S. But if the
exploratory oil drilling underway in Cuban waters leads to a major oil
discovery, Thale continued, "that would change the broader political

"The sort of political rationale for this level of U.S. sanctions on
Cuba disappeared at the end of the Cold War. There is a lot to criticize
about Cuba . . . but what there is to criticize is not enough to justify
our economic embargo," he said. "It reinforces our image of being a
bully to the rest of Latin America, but not so strongly that any
president feels like, 'I've got to change this.'"

Routing Out Corruption in Cuba Will Require Transparency, Now Missing

Yoani Sanchez - Award-winning Cuban blogger

Routing Out Corruption in Cuba Will Require Transparency, Now Missing in
Posted: 02/28/2012 3:18 pm

Several months ago a friend gave me this magnificent manual entitled
"Toolbox for citizen control of corruption." Accompanied by a CD with
numerous practical examples, I have read it in search of answers to a
scourge that hits us harder every day. Right now we are surrounded by
calls to eliminate the diversion of resources and theft in State
enterprises. Thus, I have immersed myself in the pages of this book to
learn what we, as individuals, can do in the face of such occurrences.
Not surprisingly, I discover a word repeated over and over throughout
every chapter: transparency. An effective anti-corruption campaign must
be tied to exposure and denunciations in the national media. For every
misappropriation a news report must offer the details, each embezzlement
must face the most intense public criticism.

The calls made by the General-President at the recent conference of the
Cuban Communist Party to eliminate secrecy, however, do not seem
directed to throw all the necessary light on acts of this nature. There
is an obvious selection of what can be said and what cannot be said, a
clear line between what is publicly permitted and what is not. For
example, still today, they have given us no details in the national
press about the corruption in the Institute of Civil Aeronautics, which
led to the dismissal of its president, Rogelio Acevedo. Nor a single
word yet about the latest scandal in the banking system which has led to
the investigation of several of its employees, although it still hasn't
"touched" anyone in senior management. And what about the fiber optic
cable between Cuba and Venezuela, which hasn't brought us Internet but
rather rumors about functionaries ousted for having stolen a part of its
budget. And these are not just whispers: it's enough to travel through
the recently repaired Linea Street tunnel to see that a good share of
the materials destined for its restoration didn't end up being used in
it. Why doesn't television talk about ALL of that?

It falls back into the same mistake: verticality. The fight against
corruption is not only the task of a State or of the Comptroller General
of the Republic. We citizens must all become involved, with the
certainty that anyone can be called out for putting their hands in the
national till. If the impression that there are "untouchables" continues
to rule, thieves no one can judge because of their political history or
their ideological fealty, then we cannot move forward. The day when we
see one of these untouchables criticized on TV for diverting goods,
adulterating prices, or lying about production figures, then we will
begin to believe we are on the way to eliminating such a widespread
problem. Meanwhile, I look at the manual I now have in my hands and it
seems like nothing more than a list of improbable actions, a reservoir
of illusions impractical here.

Fidel Castro’s oldest sister dies in Havana at 88

Posted on Wednesday, 02.29.12

Univision: Fidel Castro's oldest sister dies in Havana at 88

The oldest sister of Cuban leaders Raul and Fidel Castro has died in
Havana, Univision in Miami is reporting, citing another sister.

Angela Maria Castro Ruz, 88, apparently died Tuesday. The cause of death
is unknown. The Cuban government has not officially announced the death.

Juanita Castro, a sister of Cuban leaders who lives in Miami, reported
the news on a local website, the station said.

"She died at dawn on Tuesday; she had been sick for a long time and had
been in a hospital," Juanita Castro said, according to the station.

Angela was the oldest of seven siblings: Ramon, Fidel, Raul, Juanita,
Emma and Agustina.

According to Juanita Castro, who left Cuba in 1966, she never saw her
sister again after she left the island.

Angela's funeral will be held on Thursday in her native town of Biran.

Cayman Islands patrol allows Cubans to sail to Honduras


Cayman Islands patrol allows Cubans to sail to Honduras

The boat, with 22 refugee-seekers aboard, was headed to Honduras.
By Juan O. Tamayo

A boat carrying 22 Cuban refuge-seekers was intercepted by a Cayman
Islands patrol craft, but all were in good shape and were allowed to
continue on their way to Honduras, according to a news report Tuesday.

The Cayman News Service reported that Immigration Department officials
had confirmed the 20 men and two women from the eastern Cuba town of
Manzanillo were spotted Sunday evening off Cayman Brac island, part of
the Caribbean archipelago.

The passengers were in good health and after making "minor repairs" to
their boat, they continued their trip south-west toward Honduras,
according to the report. From Honduras they would go by land to the
Mexican border with the United States.

The report did not detail what type of repairs the boat needed — which
determines how Cuban migrants are treated when they are spotted in the
territorial waters of the British-run international banking center 125
miles south of Cuba.

Since 2005, Cubans in bad health or in boats that are not seaworthy are
detained in the Cayman Islands, while healthy migrants in fit vessels
are allowed to continue on their trips. Those forced ashore can apply
for asylum, which is almost never granted.

Before then, Cayman officials and residents were allowed to the
refuge-seekers with food, water and gasoline, and even to make major
repairs to their vessels, so they could continue on their journeys.

The number of Cubans spotted in Cayman waters has been increasing in the
past year, apparently because the communist-ruled government's embrace
of some mild market-type economic reforms has caused food prices to
spike and cut into government services.

Five groups of Cubans were spotted in Cayman waters in 2011, compared to
none the previous year. Almost all were deported to their home country,
with the last batch of 16 flown back to Cuba two weeks ago after their
requests for asylum were denied.

But Rafael Hidalgo Figueredo and Fernando Figueredo Corrales, both in
their 30s, escaped from an Immigration Department lockup on Jan. 21 and
have not been found, according to published reports.

A Cayman publication, The Cay Compass, published an editorial earlier
this month urging a review of the agreement with the Cuban government
that bars officials and residents from helping the migrants.

"Most Caymanians would like to offer emergency provisions and send the
Cubans along on their journey to freedom," the editorial noted.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

One More Wildcard / Fernando Dámaso

One More Wildcard / Fernando Dámaso
Fernando Dámaso, Translator: Unstated

The term "national security" is fashionable in the world: in Mexico
violence is an issue of national security; in Columbia it's the
narco-guerrillas; in the U.S. it's illegal immigration. But here, not to
be left out, we talk about it too. Issues of national security are
important for countries, and so their governments dedicate preferential
and serious attention to them.

However, when national security is used as a wildcard to encompass any
problems, expand the base the conflict and resolution, suppress
divergent views and support of political intolerance, it is vulgarized
and is no longer taken seriously.

Recently, we often hear that food production, updating immigration
regulations, access to Internet, electrical power generation, possession
of satellite dishes, the transportation problem and even eradicating the
marabou weed are national security issues. Much of what affects us seems
to fit in this sack and that makes our lives a real hodgepodge.

We are apt to get attached to words, phrases, projects and programs,
thinking they can serve to pull together different tasks that would
otherwise be difficult to meet. For example, not long ago, within the
program called Battle of Ideas, were included not only political and
ideological activities themselves, but also others such as the repair of
a hospital or a school, patching a street, the remodeling of a bakery or
putting four benches in a park, etc., with the result that ordinary
citizens made a joke of the whole thing (Enough of ideas already, they
said), detracting from its seriousness and significance.

Something similar happened with the so-called Energy Revolution that
inundated the country with generators and energy saving light bulbs,
replacement of old electrical appliances (they brought you a new one and
took away your old one and you had to start paying all over again),
including refrigerators and air conditioners, along with rice cookers,
water heaters, portable electric burners, and multipurpose pots (the
so-called "Queen") and then, over the months, it was diluted and the
responsibility for maintaining it transferred to the shoulders and
pockets of the population.

It might be convenient to take ourselves a little more seriously, give
each case its real importance, without minimizing and also without
broadening or manipulating it for some alleged advantages, more cyclical
than real.

If now we were to think things through carefully before acting on them,
and then to act calmly, deeply and without unnecessary haste, to focus
responsibly on national security, stripping it of all the trash that has
been tacked on it it, it would be a good decision.

February 26 2012

Three Canadians killed in car crash in Cuba

Three Canadians killed in car crash in Cuba
pdated: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 11:17 AM EST
Three Quebec tourists on holiday in Cuba were killed Saturday evening
when two trucks smashed into their car.

The deceased are all men from the Montreal suburb of Laval, Que.

Family members identified them as Maikel Mendoza Prieto, 29, Francis
Tremblay, 26, and David Tartre, who is 26 or 27.

Ginette Senecal, who is Prieto's spouse and Tremblay's mother, survived
with serious injuries.

Tremblay and Tartre were friends.

The three men were killed when two trucks collided with each other and
then struck their car in the town of Moron, east of Havana.

Senecal had just celebrated her 50th birthday on Friday, her sister told
QMI Agency.

"It's a terrible, tragic accident and it really wasn't their fault," the
sister said.

"The impact of the two trucks was so strong that they stuck the car, and
it was head-on."

Family members travelled to Cuba to retrieve the bodies and personal
belongings and Canada's foreign affairs department said it's providing help.

"Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the Canadian citizens
who were involved," the department said in a statement.

Cuba’s Call to Meet with Some Emigrants in USA

Cuba's Call to Meet with Some Emigrants in USA
February 27, 2012
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

The Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 27 — This past Wednesday night I received an email
that had been sent out to numbers of people from a diligent
Cuban-American cultural entrepreneur. It was a call from the Cuban
Interests Section in Washington for the holding of a meeting with Cuban
emigrants in the United States.

The document suffered from that aseptic style that afflicts diplomatic
communications, particularly those of Cubans in when it comes to the
issue of migration. Its narcissistic style that enjoys its own aim for
accuracy, so as to leave no room for interpretation, at least among
trained readers.

The message wasn't addressed to all migrants, only to those who "are
linked to their country in a respectful manner and are conscious of the
urgency of defending its sovereignty and national identity."

The meeting's agenda vaguely referred to "the normalization of relations
between the nation and its emigrants, the effects of the US posture of
hostility, as well as the blockade against Cuba and its manipulation in
relation to the issue of immigration, and the situation of the "five
anti-terrorist fighters unjustly imprisoned in the United States."

To dispel any doubt about who was being selected to attend, the message
noted that the Interests Office itself would choose them and send out
the invitations.

Of course, this document might raise many questions for any uninformed
reader, particularly if one respects the universal norms that govern
global migration processes and the responsibilities that issuing
countries must abide by in relation to their citizens living outside
their jurisdictions.

These standards, incidentally, are the result of advances in the notion
of citizenship, the rights of these nationals and the relationship
between the state and the citizen. However these are standards which the
Cuban government doesn't abide by.

The conference has been called in this way, repeating the same
authoritarian, exclusivist, discriminatory and anti-national pattern as
its predecessors, particularly the four that have taken place since 1994.

No room for doubt

Nothing seems to have changed.

Havana balcony. Photo: Caridad

Even the title of the announcement is contradictory. They talk of "the
Nation and Emigration," as if both were to participate.

The reality, though, is that it's difficult to recognize the Cuban
government as a legitimate representative of the nation, the same way
that one cannot limit emigrants to a group of people whose selection is
based on their ideological and emotional closeness to that government.

This is not a case of the nation and its emigrants meeting, but of a
government of dubious legitimacy that fails to submit itself to
electoral scrutiny and only one part of an acquiescent fragment of its
emigrants whose sociological and ideological composition differ
materially from that of the overall emigrant population.

Therefore, we should point out that Cuba is not only a high volume
source of emigrants at the global level, but that its immigration
policies make it an source of politicized emigrants par excellence due
to its own politics of banishment, economic extortion and limitations of
all types that the government imposes on its emigrants.

Moreover, the title of the conference establishes a terrible dichotomy
between the "Nation and Emigration." They are two different things in
dialogue, and only one of them is the nation.

So even though Cuban emigrants finance a good part of household
consumption in Cuba, are asked to invest, are producers of what we call
Cuban culture, etc., they are seen as an external appendage to the body
of the nation.

The issue remains exactly as was defined by ousted Foreign Minister
Perez Roque, who in 2008 spoke in terms of "neither schemes nor
Manichaeism" and said "To emigrate is a right, to establish ones
residence abroad is a decision for each individual," which contrasts
with another evidently superior statement: "To experience hardships and
dangers, but also the satisfaction of defending the homeland here…is an
entirely voluntary act, a personal decision."

True interests cloaked

In reality, what the Cuban government is doing is the same thing that,
according to Julio Cesar Guanche, what a Havana rapper does: regurgitate
the secular ideological content of the revolution in retreat while
throwing a cover loaded with patriotic emotions over the concrete and
thorny problems of the nation.

Havana balcony. Photo: Caridad

Obviously, though, Guanche's rapper has to do this with more grace and
rhythm than the grotesque former foreign minister, who after so
conscientiously interpreting the wishes of Fidel Castro ended up
"intoxicated by the honey of power."

If Cuban officials are now returning to the issue of immigration, it's
because they desperately need the money and the participation of
emigrants in the capitalist restructuring of Cuban society and for the
post-revolutionary bourgeois elite.

Because of this, where we want to see one part of the nation, the Cuban
government sees emigration different from that. Where we want to see
citizens with rights — even the meager rights that ordinary Cubans
possess — the government sees remittances, tourists and investors.

Where we want to see a bridge for understanding, the Cuban government
would rather see the formation of a political lobby to achieve access to
the American market.

All of this poses a serious political challenge, and also moral one, to
those who decide to participate in this meeting with a pre-set agenda.

The Cuban government is going to expand participation to people other
than the members of those associations adopted by Cuban embassies. It
needs to. But these will be momentary acts of cooptation that do not
imply qualitative change, only a utilitarian extension of the fingerboard.

Those who agree to participate, from my point of view, are not crossing
an ethical Rubicon, nor are they turning into un-presentable
politicians. But if one attends, they should know that they will be
legitimizing a process that won't lead to normalization but to the
perpetuation of separation, ostracism and exploitation of emigrants by a
parasitic and authoritarian state.

They should know, no matter what their present intentions, that they are
legitimizing discrimination.

If the Cuban government really wants to do something different it should
give up control over the composition of this meeting, open up the agenda
for discussion and finally promise some type of mechanism that links the
meeting's agreements and state's policies to be adopted.

We must demand this through all through the means we have.

I repeat what I said before: Either we direct our actions and demands
above the scaffolding, or we will end up — despite our intentions —
propping it up.

(*) Originally published in Spanish by

Castro to rejoin Catholic Church?

Castro to rejoin Catholic Church?
Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

There are rumours afoot that Fidel Castro may rejoin the Catholic Church.

The chatter in Rome is that Castro is preparing to be readmitted to the
Church when Pope Benedict visits Cuba next month.

Speculation went viral as two Italian daily newspapers, La Repubblica
and La Stampa reported that the committed revolutionary atheist and
ailing octogenarian had 'seen the light'.

Castro's daughter, Alina Fernandez told La Repubblica that lately her
father had "come closer to religion and to God."

The reports however have met with skepticism.

"Relations between religion and politics have long been something of an
anomaly in Cuba," says Riordan Roett, a Latin America scholar at Johns
Hopkins. "But conversion and absolution? That's pretty farfetched."

Nor does Brazil's Frei Betto, a Franciscan friar and close friend of
Castro's, pay much heed to the suggestion that the Cuban revolutionary
is ready to bow his head. "In my opinion, he's an agnostic," says Betto.

While Castro famously cancelled Christmas as a national holiday in Cuba,
a turning point was the papacy of Pope John Paul II with whom, it is
reported, Castro "had a fantastic chemistry," and it was during this
time that outright repression of religion gave way to a tense, but
pragmatic coexistence between clergy and the comandantes.

Earlier in the month, Reuters' reported that Pope Benedict wanted to see
Fidel Castro when he visits Cuba in March. At the time the meeting was
still pending the health of the communist dictator.

Benedict is still only scheduled to meet the younger Castro, President
Raul Castro, 80, who is President of the Council of State and of the
Council of Ministers.

The Potato Came / Anddy Sierra Alvarez

The Potato Came / Anddy Sierra Alvarez
Anddy Sierra Alvarez, Translator: Unstated

It's heard in the streets from several people selling potatoes, before
the arrival of this product in the farmers markets, at the elevated
price of 20 Cuban pesos, "a bag with four potatoes."
"Until when," says Sofia, a lady of 58, "it's true that this is a bunch
of crap we have to go through," she continues indignantly. After the
loss of production this tuber continues to be scarce over the full season.

After a week, it started to show up in the farmers markets, "desired by
the citizens," but then another challenge begins, how to buy it? The
lines in some of the markets in the capital are stunning (and not all
the markets are selling this product), with arguments, debates, fights,
scams, and diversion of goods, all increasing the desperation to get
home with a few potatoes to enjoy the lost flavor from a year ago.

"Even when" a woman said Stephanie, 58, "it is true that this is crap so
you have to go" continues to express the indignant lady. After the loss
of production is brought about by the shortage of potatoes in a full season.

For Cubans, the potato is the savior of many families, with a scrap of
chicken and a lot of vegetables you can feed an army, hence the
expression, "the potato helps."

Translator's note: The word for potato in Spanish, papa, and the word
for pope, Papa, are the same. That nuance is not captured in this

27 February 2012

Weighing in on Toilet Paper in Cuba

Weighing in on Toilet Paper in Cuba
February 28, 2012
Maria Matienzo Puerto

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 28 — At the Havana Book Fair I met a Mexican woman who
told me about some Mexican feminists who were debating on Facebook about
the best way for one to wash one's "toto" (female genitalia).

I laughed – I couldn't do otherwise. It's that I had never discussed
that with anyone and it seemed absurd (I think it still does) that
people would get into a debate about something so every day, something
so inconsequential.

So me, someone who's criticizing them, now I want to weigh into a
related topic: toilet paper.

I want to turn toilet paper into a social symbol in the reclamation of
the rights to intimacy and hygiene. That would be eschatological,
wouldn't it?

A long time ago, years perhaps, toilet paper in Cuba ceased being a
necessity and become a luxury for Cuban women.

Someone took note of this and began producing a type called "Calidad
Popular" (People's Quality); that was the slogan printed on the wrapper.
This consisted of a light brown paper that looked dirty, but which we
always thought was recycled or something. Plus, since it was sold in
local currency, nobody had a problem with it.

Well, there wasn't a problem until one day even the "People's Quality"
toilet paper started being sold in hard currency.

The prices began to rise from .90 CUC to 1.50 CUC (from about $1 USD to
$1.65 USD) for a pack of four rolls. Even still, though the price of
toilet paper hit 10 percent of a person's average monthly wage, women
continued to buy it. Now we were edging toward the height of a paroxysm.

Then it happened – the price tripled. There was no conciliation or any
other options. Now I had to spend 30 percent of my monthly salary on
toilet paper if I wanted to maintain my hygiene.

Does that seem superfluous, superficial…frivolous?


Well, so what? Maybe it is, but that's the way things work around here.
That's how things function. There just aren't that many options for
wiping off pee.

Humanitarian Alan Gross Held By Cuba as a Political Pawn

Humanitarian Alan Gross Held By Cuba as a Political Pawn

The Alan Gross story shows just how dangerous it can be to travel to a
Communist state-controlled country like Cuba.

On December 3, 2009, Alan Gross was arrested and detained in a maximum
security military hospital. He has been there ever since.

Alan's only crime was daring to help provide Jews living in Cuba with
better access to the Internet. During his five visits to the Island,
Alan brought in telecommunication equipment to help Jewish communities
there establish their own Intranet. Later, he also helped to improve
their Internet access.

During one of those visits, according to the Washington Post, Cuban
authorities even searched Gross' bags, discovered the computer and
cellphone equipment, and demanded that he pay a tax for bringing the
equipment into the country. No one in Cuba took issue with his personal,
humanitarian efforts until December 3rd, 2009, when authorities decided
to arrest him.

The Cuban 5 – Espionage and Spying

In 1998, five Cubans were arrested and sent to U.S. prisons for a long
laundry list of crimes involving espionage against the United States.

The five Cuban spies were trained intelligence agents, living and
working in the United States to identify and track Cuban exile groups
living in the U.S. The U.S. presented evidence in courts proving that
the Cuban spies had infiltrated U.S. military facilities in Florida and
were literally acting as "undeclared foreign agents" on U.S. soil, for
the Cuban government.

The jail term for espionage in the United States is harsh – regardless
of your nationality – so the five Cuban spies were put away in 1998 and
the world forgot about them.

A propaganda outlet for the Cuban government called "Int'l Committee for
the Freedom of the Cuban 5″ responded to the Washington Post article
about the Cuban spies, stating that the so-called "anti-terrorists" came
to the U.S. to monitor anti-Cuba "terrorists".

"The glaring omission in the editorial is that it never mentions
that the reason the Cuban 5 came to the United States in the first place
was to monitor anti-Cuba terrorists groups based in Miami."

The irony is that the Washington Post made it very clear why the Cuban
spies were in the U.S., and the activities they conducted while there.
On the other hand, the propaganda outlet failed to inform readers about
the fact that the Cuban 5 conducted very real anti-U.S. espionage
activities, such as infiltrating a U.S. military installation.

There is no comparison between Gross and the Cuban 5, and the attempt by
the Cuban government to utilize an innocent civilian – a humanitarian –
is a travesty. It is further proof that Cuba is not interested in
justice or morality, but is instead interested in using an innocent
human life to win the freedom of five guilty spies.

The Fate of Alan Gross

On Thursday, February 23rd, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont went to
Cuba and visited with Alan Gross at the military prison where he has
been held since 2009.

Leahy and Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama both met with Castro and
tried to convince him to release Alan Gross. They spoke with Castro for
over two hours, and even offered take Gross back to the U.S. with them.

Castro declined the offer without hesitation. Instead, he changed the
subject to the five Cuban spies being held in the United States since
1998. Leahy told reporters that Castro even admitted that Gross wasn't a
spy, but it became apparent to everyone that Castro intends to use Gross
as a pawn in its political maneuvering to win back the Cuban spies.

And since the U.S. government has no intention of freeing five guilty
spies in exchange for one innocent human life, the situation remains at
an impasse.

The tragedy is that Gross is 62 years old and is still facing about 11
years of his original jail term in Cuba. His family is concerned that
they may never see him again.

Paupers / Miguel Iturria Savón

Paupers / Miguel Iturria Savón
Miguel Iturria Savón, Translator: Unstated

At dawn last Monday, across 23rd street, between 10 and 12, Vedado, a
lady very thin, poorly dressed, half blind and with a cane, begged me to
lead her to the next block, that is to the corner of 12 and 21, where
she had coffee every morning because she has no kitchen in the room she
shares with her son, who goes back and forth from the asylum to the
neighborhood. While accompanying her I asked her some things; on leaving
her in the cafe I gave her ten pesos to have breakfast; I assumed for
lunch she would eat in one of those destitute meal programs for indigents.

It is not pleasant to encounter people who walk out displaying their
misery without any intention to do so. They carry it in their faces,
dirty and disheveled clothes, shoes, hairstyle and even the soul. With
few exceptions, they seem like unburied zombies, ghosts in the sun on
the streets of our cities. No one more than they reveals the crisis and
lack of opportunities in the country.

Poverty is greater than we suppose. Just look at the gray presence of
people walking aimlessly. In that legion of beings alienated by famine,
victims of the disparity between wages and prices of commodities, not
only beggars belong, but also madmen without state support, the drunks
who wander between home to the bar and the old people whose monthly
check lasts a week.

Every day, the estimate of number of poor grows. There are the very
poor, the totally, partial and circumstantial homeless. All interacting
in an association, an association without legal representatives, whose
presence belies the official slogans and raises questions about the
statistics, so supportive on paper and so limited in their application.

While the beggars, alcoholics, the insane and the elderly who wander
through the day and vanish at night, make up the most representative
list, the squadron of extreme poverty is compounded by old ladies in the
neighborhood, those who count their pesetas and curse the young clerk
who alters their balance. The old ladies are followed by unemployed
daughters-in-law and daughters, almost all housewives with husbands "can
bring home the bacon" and force them to sell anything or to exchange
their favors with the grocer, the butcher or the seller at an
agricultural kiosk.

Add to the non-exclusive club of paupers the thousands of people who
accustom themselves to surviving through devalued work and a symbolic
checkbook; beggars of all kinds, thieves of trifles, those who shelter
in bus and train terminals, visitors of stinking bars, cheap
whorehouses, prohibited gambling houses, the tenements of aggressive
people and thieves of storehouses and cafes, who take the risk for a
little sugar or rice, a piece of bologna or a box of cigars.

It is true that despite everyday stresses, the pariahs of Cuba still
enjoy "perks" in pharmacies, clinics and funeral homes; burials are
still free but the mourners pay for the flowers, coffee and cars
accompanying the deceased on his last walk; but the panorama of people
who survive in the precariousness of Havana and other cities of the
island is growing.

October 10 2011

Cubans Living on $20 a Month: An Unsubstantiated Rumor

Cubans Living on $20 a Month: An Unsubstantiated Rumor
February 28, 2012
Yanelys Nuñez Leyva

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 28 — Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's National
Assembly of Popular Power, in a televised excerpt from the recent
National Party Conference gave us new data on the need for greater
freedom of information.

To substantiate his claims, he used an example very close to the daily
problems of Cubans: their monthly income.

In his view, the idea that the average Cuban survives on 20 CUCs (a
little more than $20 USD) a month is too broad. He says that some
people, including international journalists — evidently
counter-revolutionaries — repeat this false situation over and over again.

As proof of that mistake, according to Alarcon, one can find the true
real statistics on the national economy on a CIA website, of all places.

As the point of his discussion was the urgent need for information by
people, the issue of the average wage was left to the side.

Still, it would have been interesting to see how his comments on that
point would have ended, because most people I know work for less than 20
CUCs a month.

The "average" Cuban engages in all kinds of surreptitious maneuvers to
survive over those 30 days.

The unlicensed sale of candy, juice, clothing, bags, shoes, or anything
else, is one of the extra actions that many people involve themselves
in, not to mention those who risk committing unlawful acts within their

Ricardo Alarcon — the man who once had the audacity to say that if
everyone had the right to travel abroad, the skies would be threatened
by over congestion — returns to delight us with his wise and stunning
judgments about life in our country.

In his opinion, the figure 20 CUC is in itself laughable, it's no more
than pure rumor based on disinformation campaigns sponsored by the enemy.

People do need access to information – this is a fact.

But they also need a major change in their way of life.

Canadian operator opens fourth hotel in Cuba

Canadian operator opens fourth hotel in Cuba

Toronto-based Blue Diamond Hotels & Resorts announced it opened its
fourth all-inclusive hotel in Cuba, the Memories Flamenco Beach on Cayo
Coco, on Feb. 28.

Blue Diamond, a division of tour operator Sunwing Travel Group, also
manages the Memories Caribe Beach Resort on Cayo Coco, as well as the
Memories Paraiso Beach Resort and the Memories Azul Beach Resort, both
on Cayo Santa María.

Both Cayo Coco and Cayo Santa María are part of the Jardines del Rey
island chain along Cuba's north-central coast.

In a press release, the company said the all-suite resort is aiming at a
family clientele, offering sports and activities, a daily entertainment
program, and a Kids Club.

Cuban police briefly arrested more than 100 dissidents over the weekend

Posted on Tuesday, 02.28.12

Cuban police briefly arrested more than 100 dissidents over the weekend

One human rights activist described 'a state of paranoia' as at least
100 dissidents were arrested ahead of key anniversaries.
By Juan O. Tamayo

Police briefly arrested more than 100 Cuban dissidents over the weekend
in a multi-pronged campaign to prevent public demonstrations marking the
anniversaries of the deaths of five Castro opponents, activists reported

Former political prisoner Angel Moya and nine other government opponents
also were detained and there was no word on their whereabouts as of late
Monday, said his wife, Bertha Soler, leader of the dissident group
Ladies in White.

"There's a kind of state of paranoia" in which security agents are
sweeping up anyone they consider a threat, said Havana human rights
activist Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, who put the number of confirmed
weekend arrests at more than 100.

Most were freed hours or days later, not in time to join protests
marking the Feb. 23, 2010 death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata
Tamayo after a lengthy hunger strike, or the deaths of four South
Florida men whose Brothers to the Rescue airplanes were shot down by
Cuban fighter jets on Feb. 24, 1996.

One crackdown that elicited surprise was that against the group Ladies
in White in Havana, which has been largely left alone during the past
two years, when they attended Sunday mass at the Santa Rita church and
then marched around the neighborhood.

But police and pro-government mobs have not allowed the women to protest
any other way, and swiftly arrested 20 of them when they appeared to be
taking their march outside their usual boundaries, Soler told El Nuevo

"We walked to our usual bus stop and about 15 got on a bus that filled
up, so the rest of us started walking to another bus stop, and all of a
sudden we were surrounded by police cars, motorcycles, buses,
everything," she said.

She said that she and 19 other Ladies in White members then were shoved
into an empty bus and driven away. They were held on the bus for more
than four hours, Soler said.

Dissidents said that police in other parts of the island have tried to
avert protests by beating activists and surrounding their homes.

Police on Saturday detained three well known government critics —
musician Gorki Aguila, graffiti artist Danilo "El Sexto" Maldonado and
singer Ismael de Diego — before a planned concert at a park. They were
freed Sunday.

Church in Cuba doing Castros’ bidding

Posted on Sunday, 02.26.12


Church in Cuba doing Castros' bidding

Why is it that the Catholic Church in Cuba is working hand in hand with
the Castro dictatorship, even to the point of collaborating in the
expulsion of dissidents from the island or of posting statements on its
official website that support the current regime?

On the surface, it might seem that the church has taken a pragmatic
approach, and one with a very long history: that of lessening overt
persecution by any means possible. After all, the Catholic Church over
the centuries has often sought to compromise with secular rulers, for
one simple reason: Since it has no army, and is officially committed to
turning the other cheek, the deck is always stacked against it in
serious church-state struggles. The church knows this all too well.

Take, for instance, its experience in 17th-century Japan, where it was
totally annihilated after making serious inroads and where believers
were horribly tortured before being killed in ways that made crucifixion
seem like a light punishment. Or take the case of merry old Elizabethan
England, where Catholics were wiped out, too, after the pope
excommunicated Good Queen Bess, and where every Catholic priest captured
by the authorities was disemboweled, hung, drawn and quartered.

Given such a history, the compromising behavior of the Cuban hierarchy
shouldn't surprise anyone. But the fact is that it does shock many
Cubans, because their church doesn't seem to be turning the other cheek,
or even a blind eye: It actually seems to support the ideology and
repressive measures of the dictators. Nothing proves this more
convincingly than a document issued in 1986 by the National Cuban Church
Encounter, which, instead of calling for an end to human-rights abuses
on the island called for "reconciliation" with the Castro regime and
declared that socialism "helped us to have more regard for human beings
. . . and showed us how to give, because of justice, what we used to
give as charity." Anyone with the slightest exposure to Catholic
theology should have no trouble spotting all of the heresies crammed
into that statement.

Lately, compromising with dictators has become the hallmark of Cardinal
Jaime Ortega y Alamino. To see this first hand, simply visit the website
of the diocese of Havana, where he openly displays his commitment to
Castroite notions of "social justice," and defends the legitimacy of the
current police state. In the summer of 2010, as he brazenly engineered
the expulsion of dozens of dissidents from Cuba, the good cardinal
decreed on this website that anyone who worked to undermine the status
quo should have no voice in determining the future of Cuba. In other
words, the cardinal routinely expresses his ideological commitment to
the repressive policies of the Castro regime: all this in the name of
"egalitarianism" and "social justice."

The aims of Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to Cuba are much harder
to fathom. In the past five years, some Vatican officials have
downplayed human-rights abuses in Cuba, but the Holy Father himself
can't be held responsible for their callousness. And he most probably
has his own agenda.

Given his closeness to the late John Paul II, his dislike of liberation
theology and his own experiences as a child in Nazi Germany (a "model"
state consciously aped by the Castro brothers), he is undoubtedly
opposed to the ongoing oppression of the Cuban people. Pope Benedict may
be aiming to crack the foundations of the Castro palace through his
visit, but may be underestimating the craftiness of the brothers within
it, as well as that of his own man in Havana, Cardinal Ortega.

A recent Miami Herald article quoted a Cuba "expert": "The church is now
a partner with Raúl in the search for a more productive, more effective
system, and creating a favorable atmosphere for a transition without

This quote needs some decoding for those who have never lived in
Castro's Cuba. A better way of summing up the current situation is this:
The church wants to maintain the status quo, rather than to foster any
genuine transition. The only transition they're looking at is the
inevitable death of Fidel and Raúl, and to them "without violence" means
"without the two million exiles and without democracy."

Carlos Eire teaches church history at Yale. A longer version first
appeared on Babalublog.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Some Yes, Others No / Yoani Sánchez

Some Yes, Others No / Yoani Sánchez
Translator: Unstated, Yoani Sánchez

I turned on the TV, in one of those fits of credulity which now and then
assail me. I wanted to hear the evening news, to know some news, to feel
closer to the reality of Syria, so distant and so near. But here
information is not measured by its importance in the rest of the world…
so, patience, great patience. First came a report about some
agricultural crops whose growth we have not noticed on our plates; a
story about the increase in beans, bananas or quarts of milk that are
still playing hide and seek with our mouths. I endured it. I wouldn't
take my eyes from the screen until I had heard about the deaths in Homs,
the declarations of the Arab League, and the deaths of two journalists
resulting from a bombing.

The minutes passed, uninformed and anxious. Suddenly I see a photo in
which the blogger Miriam Celaya and other acquaintances appear,
surrounded with epithets such as "mercenaries" and "traitors." The
reason was their participation in a workshop on digital media, held at
the home of an official from the United States Interest Section. Outside
a group of restless official paparazzi were taking photographs of the
event to illustrate their later telling of it, in their own way, on
national television. Whenever something like this happens, I wonder why
the Cuban government keeps open a representation of the United States on
the Island if — as they say — it is a "nest of provocation." The answer
is contained within the question itself: they would not be able to
govern without putting the blame for the growing discontent on someone
else. And, in addition, if the thousands of people who line up each week
outside this diplomatic site to emigrate felt that there was no other
outlet for their frustration, most likely they would take to our
streets, to our plazas. In short, the Foreign Ministry suffers a visible
conflict of avoidance-approach, love-hate, get away from me-I need you.

I would also love to know what happens to American citizens who visit
the corresponding Cuban office on the soil of our neighbor to the north.
Are their faces also broadcast on the news, accompanied by insults?
Diplomacy, despite what many think, occurs not at the level of
governments or presidential palaces, but person to person. So every
Cuban should have the sovereign right to visit the embassies of Iran or
Israel, Bolivia or Chile, Russia or Germany. Given that these contacts
are not a crime under the penal code, they should be allowed and
encouraged. The job of the government would be to protect these
exchanges, not to dynamite them.

Even more surprising, the next day on the same boring news show, I see
images of Raul Castro meeting with two important United States senators.
But in his case they do not present him as a "traitor" or a "worm," but
as the First Secretary of the Communist Party. I know that many will try
to explain to me that "he can because he is a leader." In response to
which, allow me to remind them, the president of a nation is just a
public servant, he cannot engage in an action that is prohibited or
demonized to his fellow citizens. If he is empowered to do it, why is
Miriam Celaya not. Why not invite this woman, an anthropologist and
magnificent citizen journalist who was born in 1959, the year of the
Revolution itself, to some public center to relate her experience in
working in the digital press, rather than relegate her to some locale
provided to her by "others." Why not dare to allow her one minute — even
if it is only in the worst hour in the middle of the night — to speak on
the official television that censors and stigmatizes her?

The saddest thing is that the answer to all these questions will never
appear in this dull newscast at one in the afternoon, nor in the
morning, nor at eight o'clock at night, nor at…

26 February 2012

Could the dissidence become a valid interlocutor for the Cuban regime? / Iván García

Could the dissidence become a valid interlocutor for the Cuban regime? /
Iván García
Iván García, Translator: JT

In politics, all isn't what it seems. Considering that there is no way
out, a solution always looms. Above all and more than ever, dictators
desire power. But when this isn't possible, they negotiate the future.

Not so much for love of their country or her people. Simply to preserve
their lives and their perks. Augusto Pinochet killed thousands of
dissidents in Chile, but in the end, he had to open the doors to change.

The despicable racist government of Pretoria imprisoned Nelson Mandela
in a tiny, narrow cell on Robbin Island for 27 years. But before the
clamor of the majority of the South African people, then-President
Frederik De Klerk had no option other than to negotiate a political exit
with the mythical Mandela.

Those who persist in power with a knife between their teeth know the
game they're playing. The masses are unpredictable. They are capable of
applauding a six-hour long speech under a fiery sun, or of unleashing
their ire and furiously bludgeoning the politicians whom they consider
their oppressors.

Remember Mussolini. Or the Rumanian Ceaucescu. If the revolts in North
Africa and the Middle East leave us any clear lesson, it is that
autocrats are no longer in fashion. Farewell to Ben Ali and Mubarak,
Gaddafi and Saleh. Another tough guy, Bashar Al-Assad, has his days
numbered in Syria. While the more violently they act, the worse is the
fury of the governed.

Have no doubt, Fidel Castro has taken note. He is a student of modern
history and every now and then he likes to remind us of it in his somber

The Castro brothers know that the economic situation in Cuba is very
serious and worrying. They must have some contingency plan up their sleeve.

The system has shown itself to be lethally useless to bring food to the
table and to produce quality items. We go to work to steal. Efficiency
and production are at rock bottom, as are wages.

The future for many Cubans is to leave the country. Those without a
future have come to be unpredictable. A time bomb. The present situation
is like the sandpaper on a box of matches, at the slightest contact it
can burst into flames.

The Castro brothers are maneuvering in a difficult terrain. And if the
internal situation in Cuba squeezes them, it might be that they could
negotiate with the dissidence. Not for all, just for a part — that which
they consider convertible to their interests.

According to some veteran opposition members, it's very probable that
Cuban intelligence has designed a parallel opposition which, in some
convenient moment, will serve as a wild card and political actor in a
future without the Castros.

It might be paranoia. In totalitarian states, suspicion and the absurd
become habit. But it isn't insane to think that to give the dissidents a
space if circumstances force their hand, could become a part of the
island's mandarin's calculus.

Supposedly, they're not going to hand over anything, they will have to
continue dealing as they are accustomed to, using denunciations, street
marches, and – above all – doing a better job with the citizenry.

If the opposition dedicates itself to work in search of its community,
does proselytizing work among its neighbors, and doesn't only offer a
discourse to foreigners, it will have a part of the struggle won.

It's important to increase the denunciations of mistreatment and lack of
freedoms to the European Union, the United States, and to the
international organizations that watch over human rights. But now is the
time to write fewer documents, which almost no one in Cuba reads, owing
to the repressive character of the regime and the low access of the
populace to the internet.

It's also time to combine all the points that unite the dissidents and
to obviate the discrepancies between the different political factions.
The goal of the peaceful opposition must be dialog with its
counterparts, as has happened in the old Burma with Aung San Suu Kyi at
its head.

To push a regime that has despised and mistreated its opponents into
negotiations, there has to be a 180 degree turn away from the old
tactics and strategies.

Cuba's fate worries everyone. The destiny of our motherland will be
decided in the next ten years. Or less. For that matter, the opposition
could turn into a valid player.

If it is proposed, it will come about. The dissidence has points in its
favor. A leaky economy, an inefficient government, and the discontent of
a majority of Cubans over the state of things.

In the short term, if the chore is done well, the regime will sit down
to negotiate with the opposition. Believe me, the Castro brothers don't
have many cards to play, although they'd like to make it appear
otherwise. And dialog is the best option for them — perhaps the only one.

Photo: Taken from the blog Uncommon Sense. From left to right, the
ex-political prisoners of the Group of 75: Oscar Elías Biscet, Ángel
Moya Acosta, Guido Sigler Amaya, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Diosdado
González Marrero, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, Félix Navarro Rodríguez, Arnaldo
Ramos Lauzurique, Librado Linares García (in dark glasses), Pedro
Argelles Morán and Iván Hernández Carrillo. José Daniel Ferrer García
could not be present. The meeting was held on 4 June 2011, in the
Matanzas village of El Roque.

Translated by: JT

February 24 2012

Cuba: Alan Gross ‘No Spy’

Cuba: Alan Gross 'No Spy'
Staff Report
JTA Wire Service

Jailed American Jewish contractor Alan Gross "was no spy," Cuban
President Raul Castro agreed in a meeting with two visiting U.S.
senators, Patrick Leahy and Richard Shelby.

Leahy (D-Vt.) told The Associated Press that Castro made the remark
during a 2 1/2-hour meeting in Havana on Feb. 23. Leahy and Shelby
(R-Ala.) offered to take Gross back to the United States on their plane,
AP reported. Leahy told the AP that "we have a long way to go" to win
Gross' release.

Castro brought up the case of five Cuban agents serving long jail terms
in the United States, including one released last year who has not been
allowed to return to Cuba during his three-year probation, Leahy told
the AP.

Earlier in the day, Leahy had met with Gross, who is serving a 15-year
prison sentence in a military prison in Havana.

Gross was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Cuba for "crimes
against the state" for distributing laptop computers and connecting
Cuban Jews to the Internet. He spoke virtually no Spanish and traveled
to Cuba five times under his own name before his arrest.

Gross' family and U.S. State Department officials say that Gross was in
the country on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to
help the country's 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities
using the Internet. The main Jewish groups in Cuba have denied any
contact with or knowledge of Gross or the program

The senators are part of an American congressional delegation touring
Cuba, Haiti and Colombia.

[This story courtesy the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, .]
This story reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Dominican Smugglers Leave Undocumented Cubans in Treacherous Waters to Die

Dominican Smugglers Leave Undocumented Cubans in Treacherous Waters to Die
Published at 1:27 pm EST, February 27, 2012

An alien citizen of Cuba died yesterday afternoon, adding to the recent
toll of deaths of undocumented aliens in the Mona Passage being
transported by smuggling organizations attempting to reach the shores of
the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

Facing the threat of being intercepted and arrested by law enforcement,
yesterday afternoon two human smugglers left a group of aliens of Cuban
nationality by "yola" close to the treacherous cliffs of Mona and and
Monito islands; both part of a natural reserve between Puerto Rico and
the Dominican Republic.

Federal authorities under the Caribbean Border Interagency Group, along
with Dominican Republic Navy, were able to join forces to interdict and
arrest the two Dominican smugglers and rescue 12 adult males, one male
minor and three women.

The migrant vessel proceeded to transit towards Mona Island, where the
remaining 12 migrants jumped into the water and began swimming towards

Immediately thereafter, the smugglers proceeded to flee the scene and
head back towards the Dominican Republic with the CBP surveillance
aircraft in aerial pursuit.

Customs and Border Protection helicopter recovered the 11 survivors and
the deceased Cuban from Mona Island Thursday night and transported them
to the main island of Puerto Rico. The Cushing transported the three
other survivors to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, where they turned custody to
awaiting CBP Border Patrol Agents.

Hustling in Cuba Takes a Legal Turn

Hustling in Cuba Takes a Legal Turn
February 27, 2012
Dariela Aquique

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 27 — Double standards are almost an inherent condition
of Cuban life. The visceral fear of the truth, as well as our getting
used to things seeming what they aren't, have become practices used by
many people to avoid the classic social stigmas of "standing out" or
"asking for trouble."

A countless number of people will accept an opinion with which they're
actually in total disagreement. They'll attend events like CDR or union
meetings, and go to marches and rallies, even though they couldn't care
less about any of these and where their presence is nothing but a sham.

There are those who hide behind their official position of activist or
leader, even behind the undying Communist Party membership card.

To date, the voluntary manifestation of double standards is what some
have decided to adopt to cooperate with the inertia in the middle of the
social quagmire on this island.

The "Official" Double-Standard

However, it turns out that now there's a new variant: the official
double standard. Yes, it's an alternative that's favored by those same
institutions as an invitation to commit publically condoned farce, or
authorized deception.

As we all know, for years the state waged a merciless war against
jineteros. This fairly large social group was, of course, dedicated to
laying siege to foreign tourists (serving as guides, offering private
lodgings and restaurants, which by the way have better quality services,
and where these self-employed "hosts" earn commissions).

It's common to see those friendly Cubans, always helpful and willing to
come up with whatever a foreign friend needs: a rental car, cigars, rum,
a beach house and even a woman…

They were a thorn in the side of the police, who had to constantly chase
behind this band of go-getters.

Of course this also incredibly affected the country's image, because not
all jineteros were content with only a few dollars a day. There were
those who went beyond certain limits to sell drugs or engage in pimping.

Despite its many beaches, Santiago has also developed a fair amount of
urban tourism. Related to this, I discovered a few days ago how hustlers
can now do their work in the centrally located Cespedes Park without
being bothered by the police. They make their pitch to foreigners
passing themselves off as workers in the tourism industry.

Someone with some brains came up with the idea to "legalizing" the
status quo of these people. The result is that now they walk the
streets, squares and areas with concentrations of foreigners wearing a
badge accrediting them as "tourism attendants."
But there's always something about their look and how they approach
visitors, certain telltale signs. Therefore I couldn't help but be
tempted to call to one of them and ask him what he was doing – to which
he replied:

"I don't know. Now I'm working here with drivers, offering tourists
taxis and taking the Pepes and yumas (foreigners) to places they want to
go…making a buck. These days the police don't bother you when they see
your badge, so you can hustle more calmly.

Pretty smart, isn't it? Like the old saying goes, "If you can't beat'em,
join'em! So now the double standard doesn't even have to be one of
personal initiative, it's officially promoted. It takes the form of
authorized deception.

Cuba will reach half a million private sector workers

Cuba will reach half a million private sector workers
02 / 27 / 2012

According to statements by Joaquin Infante, National Prize for Economics
2000, estimated that this year the number of private sector workers on
the island reaches the half-million or even above.

According to the vice president of the National Association of
Economists and Accountants of Cuba (ANEC), at present, more than 370
thousand people working in the private sector of the island, especially
in areas such as selling food, transportation passengers and rental housing.

In recent months we have implemented government facilities that
encourage non-state forms of employment, which are called to give an
important contribution to the economic update the guidelines promoted by
the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party, said in an interview with
Press America.

The extension of the authorized activities, the adjustments to the tax
regime, the leased premises and the steps in order to create a wholesale
market stand out among the measures.

From this scenario, the amount of self-employed, as they say here, went
from 157,000 in October 2010 more than doubled.

For Infante, other action to enhance the contribution of private sector
services and increasing productivity is the beginning of training
courses for entrepreneurs.

It began about 200 for bookkeepers, collectors and payers in tax and
accounting issues simplified in the capital said the deputy minister of
National Executive Council of ANEC, a nongovernmental organization with
80 000 members.

According to the National Prize for Economics 2000, courses promoted by
the organization shortly to include small business owners.

"This is their business to prepare them to function efficiently, and
thus can provide a quality service to the population and contribute to
national productivity," he said.

About the process of economic renovation undertaken by Cuba, Infante
considered him a key concept for the development goals of the nation, in
an increasingly complex environment.

Externally, we have the ongoing impact of the economic, commercial and
financial embargo imposed by the United States to the island for over 50
years, which caused 975 billion dollars in losses, he said.

Also, added the expert-bearing structural economic crisis and the
planet, with its price fluctuations.

Smokin’! Sales of Cuba’s signature stogies lifted by global demand for luxury products

Smokin'! Sales of Cuba's signature stogies lifted by global demand for
luxury products
By Associated Press, Updated: Monday, February 27, 8:44 PM

HAVANA — Sales of Cuba's famed cigars are hot, despite continued
recession fears in Europe, and a U.S. embargo that bars American
aficionados from legally lighting up.

Ana Lopez, the head of marketing at the company, said the jump was in
line with that experienced by other global luxury products. Sales fell
in 2008 and 2009, and were nearly flat the following year amid lingering
global economic weakness.

While top-flight stogies are synonymous with Cuba, they represent only a
small fraction of the island's flagging economy, which is primarily
dependent on nickel mining, tourism and professional services.

Lopez estimated that the 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo cost Cuba's
tobacco industry $79 million in sales in 2011. The company has also been
hurt by the economic crisis in Spain, its No. 1 market.

But she and other executives said Habanos was well-positioned to weather
the storm.

"We sell our products in 150 countries," said Javier Terres, the vice
president of product development. "That is what permits us to compensate."

The executives spoke at the opening of Havana's 14th International Cigar
Festival, which runs through March 2 and is expected to draw more than
1,000 people from 80 countries, including tobacco executives and

While Europe remains the top market for such signature Cuban brands as
Cohiba, Montecristo, and Romeo y Julieta, sales in Asian nations
including China are growing rapidly. Terres said sales to China have
doubled in the last three years, without giving specific figures.

Terres said 2012 figures to be a challenging year for the company
because of lingering global economic weakness and increased restrictions
on tobacco in many countries. He gave no specific sales predictions.

U.S. Catholics make plans to see the pope in Cuba

Posted on Sunday, 02.26.12

U.S. Catholics make plans to see the pope in Cuba

Two S. Florida charter companies are organizing special trips for
pilgrims for Pope Benedict XVI's March 26-28 trip to Cuba.

The Archdiocese of Miami flights that will carry some 300 pilgrims to
Cuba for Pope Benedict XVI's visit next month are a study in logistics.

Organized for the archdiocese by Airline Brokers, a Coral Gables company
that is a veteran in the Cuba travel business, tandem pilgrimage flights
will leave Miami International Airport on March 26 bound for Santiago,
where the pope will celebrate a sunset Mass at Revolution Square.

But while the pilgrims are at the Mass, the two chartered planes return
to Miami — carrying all of the travelers' luggage — then return to
Santiago later. The pilgrims will once again board the planes and head
to Havana, where the pope is scheduled to meet with church officials and
celebrate a morning Mass in the Plaza of the Revolution on March 28.

Meanwhile, the planes will return to Miami empty. The aircraft later go
back to pick up the travelers after the morning Mass, the pope's last
before he returns to Rome.

Security reasons, as well as a small tarmac at the Santiago airport,
meant the multiple flights were the only option, said Vivian Mannerud,
chief executive of Airline Brokers.

With two very large aircraft carrying the pope and his entourage, plus
at least one other plane for Cuban leader Raúl Castro and other
officials, there really wasn't room for the two Miami planes to wait
around, Mannerud said.

Besides ferrying passengers to and from Cuba during an air charter
career that began in 1982, Mannerud has transported Olympic athletes,
horses for the U.S. equestrian team, relief supplies, rosaries and
Bibles when Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998. Soon that list will
include the mattresses that Benedict will sleep on in Cuba.

City Furniture, at the request of the archdiocese, is donating two
mattresses, said Keith Koenig, president of the Tamarac-based furniture
company. He and his wife Doreen also will be among the pilgrims on the
archdiocese flight.

The pilgrims are being asked to report to MIA at 4 a.m. for the Santiago
flight. When they board, they'll find water bottles emblazoned with
Benedict's image and headrest covers displaying the Vatican flag and the
seal of the Archdiocese of Miami. Since early January when the dates for
the visit were announced by the Vatican, the archdiocese and air charter
companies have been scrambling to see that everyone who wants to be in
Cuba to coincide with the pope will be able to get there. Some air
charter companies that fly from Miami to Havana or Santiago have added
extra flights to accommodate people who want to make their own plans to
see the pope.

Marazul Charters, for example, has added five more charters out of Miami
that will get pilgrims to Havana in time for the pope's Mass. Others are
just fitting in pilgrims on their regular flights. Bill Hauf, president
and owner of Island Travel & Tours, said there are still seats available
on his Tampa-Havana flight the Sunday before the pope's visit.

He had hoped to launch a new Cuba service from Baltimore-Washington
International Airport to Havana on March 21. Demand was there for the
inaugural flight, he said, but quickly fell off, prompting him to
postpone the service until October while he develops the market.

Hauf said he also planned to offer packages for the papal visit and
requested 500 hotel rooms in December. He said the only answer he got
from the Cubans was to submit hotel requests by Feb. 26. Without
confirmed hotel rooms, he said, "we decided it was too much risk. You
have to have a hotel room to match up with a flight.''


When Pope John Paul II visited Cuba, there was a whole year to organize
the trip. This time, there will be fewer than three months.

To transport pilgrims for John Paul's 1998 visit, the Archdiocese of
Miami chartered a cruise ship and 400 people signed up. But the
archdiocese canceled it the month before the pope's January trip amid
criticism from Cuban exiles, including some of the church's biggest

The archdiocese ended up chartering a plane that flew to Havana for the
pope's Mass in the Plaza of the Revolution and returned to Miami the
same day.

This time, criticism of the pope's visit has been more muted, but the
church has stuck with the air charter option.

Airline Brokers, and C & T Charters of Coral Gables, which is working
with the Archdiocese of New York, are the only U.S. companies organizing
special pilgrimage trips.

Ya'lla Tours USA had hoped to offer "A Catholic Journey to Cuba,'' but
the company, which specializes in pilgrimages to the Holy Land, pulled
the plug on its six-day trip in January after a disagreement over
pricing with the Cuban Ministry of Tourism. "They raised rates by 25
percent midway through the process,'' said Ronen Paldi, president of the
Oregon-based company.

"There had been a lot of interest,'' he said, "but people need a much
longer lead time to prepare for such pilgrimages.''

Because they are religious trips, pilgrims don't have to get permission
from the U.S. government to travel to Cuba but they do need to get visas
from the Cuban government. Many still haven't heard about their visas
but are keeping their fingers crossed.

C&T Charters has put together several Havana packages for the
Archdiocese of New York.

The all-inclusive trips include airfare, meals, hotel and transfers to
the pope's Havana Mass, as well as guided tours to churches and other
religiously significant places, said John H. Cabañas, C&T owner. An
eight-day, seven-night trip from Miami to Havana costs $2,963 (double
occupancy) and a six-day trip costs $2,562. C&T is also offering similar
religiously themed trips from New York's JFK airport.

Cabañas said he expects religious travel to Cuba to remain strong all
year because this is the 400th anniversary of the discovery of a
much-venerated statue of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, Cuba's patron
saint, floating in the Bay of Nipe.

Nearly 1,000 people initially expressed interest in the Archdiocese of
Miami's trip, but some dropped out after Cuba raised hotel rates and the
price of the trip went up. Now, the price for a single traveler staying
at a "Grade A" hotel is just over $2,100. There are other options that
include lower-priced hotels.

The package includes some meals and transfers to the Masses where the
pope will give the homily as well as to the Mass that Miami Archbishop
Thomas Wenski, leader of the pilgrimage, will celebrate in Havana's

There was a waiting list for the Santiago-Havana trip and the
archdiocese has been busy contacting people on the list to see if they
want to take a regular charter from Miami and then hook up with the
pilgrimage group in Havana, Mannerud said.Organizing the pilgrimage is
especially meaningful for Mannerud. When she first began charter service
to Cuba, she said, "almost all the churches were closed up, boarded
up.''But relations between the Catholic Church and the state began to
thaw in the mid-1980s. By 1991, religious believers were allowed to join
the Community Party of Cuba and Caritas, a confederation of Catholic
relief organizations, that was permitted to open a branch in Cuba.
Mannerud's charter company transported many of the relief supplies
destined for the island's Catholics.

When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, Mannerud was determined to attend
his funeral even though there were virtually no seats available on
flights to Rome and she was still recovering from treatment for cancer.
She made it to the funeral. "I came back a different person,'' she said.

Even though there has been some criticism of the pope's trip and her
role in organizing the pilgrimage, Mannerud said, "I follow what my
faith tells me.''

Cuban spy wants temporary return home

Posted on Monday, 02.27.12

Cuban spy wants temporary return home
The Associated Press

MIAMI -- A convicted Cuban spy still serving probation in the U.S. wants
to return home temporarily to visit a critically ill brother.

Rene Gonzalez is asking a Miami federal judge to allow him a two-week
visit to Cuba. Gonzalez's attorney says in court papers that his
53-year-old brother is in the final stages of lung cancer.

The attorney also says Gonzalez has fully complied with his probation
since his release from U.S. prison five months ago.

Gonzalez is one of the so-called "Cuban Five" convicted of spying on
Cuban exiles in South Florida and attempting to infiltrate military
installations and political campaigns. One of the five also was
convicted of murder conspiracy for the 1996 shootdown of "Brothers to
the Rescue" planes.

Gonzalez hopes to eventually return permanently to Cuba.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

’Whitening’ the children: a desire of many Cuban families / Iván García

'Whitening' the children: a desire of many Cuban families / Iván García
Iván García, Translator: Unstated

Racism in Cuba is far from being left behind. Forget the official
ideology of a single nation without races. People do not live in
compartments. Whites, blacks and mestizos get on the same bus. Go to the
same schools. And live in the same neighborhood.

But they know the differences.. One of the most racist variants in the
21st century that persists in Cuba is in creating a family. Yoanna, a
light skinned mixed-race college student, has a black boyfriend.

Her family is black. And they do not welcome the groom. They are very
concerned stability and seriousness of the relationship. Especially the
future. And the likely children.

"My family is concerned, they say I have to delay'. My mother married a
white man. And they want this to continue', having children with whites.
I won't lie, I'd rather not have to deal with the nappy hair of a little
black girl. And although I really love my boyfriend, I want to form a
family with a white man," said Yoanna.

Planning for children between blacks and mestizos is an important issue
in some home environment. "To whiten" the family is the purpose. Purely
from a complex, some blacks and mestizos are shying away from their

I won't make this into a long story. We know the past. Centuries of
slavery. Being nobodies and despised by the color of your skin. When
Cuba became emancipated in the racial aspect, it was only in appearance.

In Gothic letters it was enshrined in the Constitution that all Cubans,
no matter what the color of their skin, were equal. Not so. Blacks and
mestizos are left at a disadvantage.

They came out of slavery with their belongings in a duffel bag and not a
penny to their names. For decades, they have been called the ugliest.
They have the worst living and working conditions. This lack of
stability, bad housing and little money, has limited the number of
blacks who go to college.

Also the marginal conditions in which they live has fueled crime. 88% of
prisoners in Cuba are black or mixed race. Therefore, when designing the
future, young blacks and mixed-race people dream in white.

Marrying a white woman or white man is the plan of many. Or a
light-skinned mulatto. To keep it going. "It's like a ladder. A dark
black person, who nobody sees, can not suddenly think to be equal to a
white champion. It is step by step. First a dark mixed-race person. Then
the children must marry to light mixed-race person, or if they are
lucky, with a white person. Such is the picture to gradually whiten the
family,"says Yoni, a 34-year-old mixed race man.

There are black and mixed race women who do not like their skin color.
It shows at once. It straighten their hair and in fashion mimic the
patterns of white women. Miriam, black, 22, goes every month for the
hairdresser to get her hair straightened.

She spends a fortune on straightening creams and shampoos. She chooses
her friends. She likes hanging out with whites and light-skinned people.
"Blacks only talk about problems and difficulties. They're always
complaining. They're out of control," Miriam says bluntly.

State media does not address the issue at length and complexity. They
put it aside. Pass over it. A broad spectrum of Cuban society sees black
culture and history as folklore.

But in their homes, blacks and mestizos speak without taboo of the need
to 'whiten' the family. Having children with lighter skin what the
parents propose, and what their children see as a goal.

September 28 2011

Recreation… Where? / Anddy Sierra Alvarez

Recreation… Where? / Anddy Sierra Alvarez
Anddy Sierra Alvarez, Translator: Unstated

The name "Eladio Cid" was confusing for a moment because it was used to
identify two stadiums which were called by the same name, on in Los
Pinos and on in Seville. "Los Pinos" is located in the municipality of
Arroyo Naranjo and Seville is located in the municipality of 10 de
October, both based in the capital of Cuba, "Havana." Actually the name
belonged to the Seville combined sports facility, previously known as
the "Athletic."

The locals refer to what once was the great arena of "The Pines" (the
name itself identified the "Pines" neighborhood) which had facilities
for sports like football, baseball, softball, basketball courts for
small and larger categories, judo, karate, swimming, diving, (a 30 yard
field where they played Basque Ball and Fromm tennis), volleyball and a
small area track and field events such as long jump, triple jump or shot

Their practices lasted into the evening as it was fully lit and fenced.
Today in 2012, the Basque Ball court is no more as it has been torn down
as it was in danger of collapse, the trampoline was also removed because
the pool is always empty because the two motors are broken, as the river
filtration runs below the pool. Because of this there have been two
fatal accidents of people who have fallen off the trampoline.

Once they put up light towers but today they elsewhere, in "Ciro Frías"
in the same municipality of Arroyo Naranjo. The towers ended up there
through administrative influence (better understood if you know that the
director of Ciro Frías has better personal relationships with managers
who assigned the towers ans so were about to force their diversion over
20 years ago).

Ricardo is one of the neighbors who lives across from the stadium and he
says it is a great loss and inconvenience to lose such an important
facility, and now he is forced to take his grandson to another stadium,
as this has no place for volleyball.

Thus, the chances for recreation are limited with each passing day,
their deterioration is irreversible. A foreign organization provided
some very helpful tools for the reconstruction of the stadium, such as
boards for basketball hoop, and they painted and cut the grass. When
this organization left they took the boards off the basketball court and
I've never seen them since, in short their good effort disappeared.

I remember this expression we used to hear every day: Sport is the right
of the people.

February 17 2012